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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                   ^55
He now had an object in life: to fly a fighter plane;
and he set out to pursue that object with the same
fanatical stubbornness as he had displayed when he
crawled to the partisans. Accustomed from early youth
to look ahead, he first of all precisely defined for himself
what he must do in order to achieve his object, without
wasting precious time. And so he decided, first, that he
must recover quickly, recover the health and strength he
had lost when he had starved, and, therefore, that he
must eat more and sleep more. Second, he must recover
the fighting qualities of an airman and therefore develop
himself physically by such gymnastic exercises as a bed-
ridden man is capable of doing. Third, and this was the
most important and difficult part, he must train what
was left of his legs so as to preserve their strength and
agility, and later, when he received his artificial limbs,
to learn to fly a plane with them.
Even to walk is not an easy matter for a footless man.
Meresyev, however, was determined to pilot an aircraft,
and a fighter plane at that. To do that, particularly in
an air battle, when everything is calculated to a fraction
of a second and movements must synchronise to a degree
equal to that of an unconditioned reflex, the feet must
be able to perform operations as precise, skilful and
above all as rapid as those performed by the hands. He
must train himself to such a degree that the pieces of
wood and leather attached to the stumps of his legs
should perform these operations like living members of
the body.
A man familiar with the technique of flying would
regard this as impossible, but Alexei was now convinced
that it was possible, and that being the case, he would
achieve it without fail. And so he set about carrying out
his plan. He began to take all the treatments and
medicines prescribed for him with a punctiliousness that
surprised himself. He ate a great deal and always asked
for a second helping even if he had no particular appe-
tite. Whatever the circumstances, he forced himself to
take the prescribed number of hours of sleep and even
trained himself to take an after-dinner nap, which was
abhorrent to his active and vivacious nature.